As the first dance documentary from Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland, it was only right that the focus would be on her long-time friend and collaborator Debbie Allen.
The trailblazing Hollywood star is well-known for her iconic work on screen, on stage, and behind the camera. From starring in Fame and choreographing the Oscars, to playing Catherine Fox in Grey’s Anatomy and directing multiple Shondaland productions, Miss Allen really has done it all.
However, the Netflix documentary takes time to focus lovingly on her work with gifted dance students at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA).
At a time where the conversation around dance and young children has caused controversy, it is necessary to be reminded of the importance of dance for the younger generation.
The fly-on-the-wall feature takes us behind the scenes for rehearsals of DADA’s annual The Nutcracker performance, reimagined and updated by Miss Allen to become The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.
‘As a little girl, Nutcracker was very important to me,’ she explains in the doc. ‘And I decided to pursue a variety of dance and music styles and make it fun.’
The performance has become a staple holiday performance in Los Angeles and the largest fundraising event on the school’s calendar and it’s not hard to see why.
As soon as the doc starts, it is moving to see just how many of the students are black.
Indeed, the dance field is notoriously difficult to get into if you don’t have a certain body type. However, Miss Allen (and her husband Norm Nixon) founded the nonprofit in 2001 to give an opportunity to the dancers who would not be have the same chance elsewhere.
From the tender age of four, kids are welcomed into the fold and lovingly nurtured by Debbie and her dance teachers during the three months of rehearsals for the holiday extravaganza.
As much as the process nurtures the talent and helps them progress in artistic dance forms such as ballet and hip hop, it also doubles as a boot camp to prepare for adulthood as the children learn the need for focus, discipline, and determination – no matter their age.
The documentary also provides a fascinating insight into Debbie’s own personal journey pursuing an art form where she did not always see herself reflected in its imagery.
The huge commitment and undertaking to train dancers of all ages, shapes, and backgrounds regardless of their socio-economic circumstances are as challenging as you would expect.
Yet it is also easy to see why students and teachers alike return to DADA year after year, there is something magical that takes place in those dance studies.
It’s hard work, there is no guarantee they will be able to chase this dream and turn it into a career, but while they are together in DADA anything feels possible.
Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker shares a strong message throughout the 80 minutes running time – give young people an opportunity, and they will shine brighter than you can ever imagine.
‘You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat,’ is what Miss Allen’s dance teacher Lydia Grant famously said in the Fame series in the 80s.
As you watch her teach the same lesson to these kids in real life, it’s hard not to be inspired to ensure you are also putting in the work in order to achieve the dream in your own life.
Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is now available to stream on Netflix.